FFAR Awards Emergency Funds to Researchers at Colorado State University to Combat Bacterial Leaf Streak of Corn

An image of bacterial leaf streak in corn. Photo courtesy of Kirk Broders, Ph.D., Colorado State University.

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a nonprofit organization established through bipartisan congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, awarded $148,499 to scientists at Colorado State University (CSU) to investigate bacterial leaf streak, a disease with limited treatment or prevention methods, that is causing yield losses for corn growers in the western corn belt, including western Kansas and Nebraska and eastern Colorado, where the disease is most severe. University of Nebraska and University of Illinois will collaborate on research projects led by the CSU research team.

Bacterial leaf streak is characterized by narrow, wavy-edged lesion that may be tan, brown or orange-yellow in color and may range from an inch to several inches on infected corn leaves. The disease was first identified in the U.S. in 2016. It has quickly spread to fields in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas, and South Dakota.

Colorado State University, University of Nebraska, and University of Illinois are matching the Foundation’s grant for a $296,000 total investment. Additional support is also being provided by the Colorado Corn Administrative Committee and the Nebraska Corn Board, as the growers in these states have prioritized this disease as one of their top concerns.

“This research is important for the corn industry, but it will also help other industries be prepared as this disease spreads in the U.S.,” said Sally Rockey, Ph.D., executive director of FFAR. “By responding rapidly to this emerging issue, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research hopes to create solutions that will help farmers and reassure their many customers in the United States and around the world.”

According to the latest estimates available by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers produced an estimated 15.2 billion bushels in 2016, a record crop, at 175.3 bushels per acre. The United States exported more than 46.6 MMT (1.8 billion bushels) of corn in the 2015/2016 marketing year.

Bacterial leaf streak has been observed on field corn, sweet corn, popcorn, and volunteer corn in several states. As the pathogen is new to the U.S., there has been little research on management strategies to limit the spread or severity of bacterial leaf streak, which is caused by the pathogen Xanthomonas vasicola pv vasculorum (Xvv). CSU researchers are taking a four-pronged approach to addressing Xvv by:

  1. Investigating the ecology and epidemiology of Xvv,
  2. Modeling the genetic and phenotypic diversity of Xvv,
  3. Generating effective disease mitigation strategies, and
  4. Creating outreach and education materials for growers.

    Portrait of dr. kirk broders

    Kirk Broders, Ph.D. Colorado State University

Kirk Broders, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management with an expertise in crop pathogens at Colorado State University, will lead the team of collaborators.

“As Xvv is new to the U.S. and is only reported from one other country, South Africa, we have a very limited understanding of the lifecycle of this pathogen including how the pathogen survives the winters, where initial inoculum comes from at the beginning of each crop season, how the bacteria spreads from plant to plant and long distance, what climatic variables favor disease development and spread, how many other plant species Xvv is capable of infecting or using as alternate hosts, and if this bacteria will be able to persist and thrive in all corn growing regions of the U.S.,” said Broders.“We plan to address these knowledge gaps and be able to relay the information to growers as quickly as possible in order to limit future yield losses.”

Co-principal investigators on this project include:

• Tamra Jackson, Ph.D., associate professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln
• Tiffany Jamann, Ph.D., assistant professor at University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign

The grant is issued through the Foundation’s Rapid Outcomes from Agricultural Research (ROAR) program, an initiative designed to prevent and mitigate damage from emerging pests and pathogens through short-term research funding. Applicants are encouraged to form broad-based coalitions to increase research collaboration and maximize the mitigation potential of each grant.

Learn more Broders and his work at: http://broderslab.agsci.colostate.edu